• Perspectives On The Dynamic Human-Walrus Relationship

      Robards, Martin D.; Chapin, F. Stuart III; Schweitzer, Peter P.; Burns, John J.; Kitaysky, Alexander S.; Lovecraft, Amy L. (2008)
      Changes in sea ice conditions have direct bearing on ice-associated species such as Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), which are an important component of subsistence for Alaska Native communities in the Bering Sea. I explore the relationship between walrus, sea ice, and Alaska Native subsistence at Diomede, Gambell, and Savoonga between 1952 and 2004 to better understand walrus ecology and subsistence under different climatic regimes. I then consider how the inability to reliably and regularly count walrus and other ice-associated pinnipeds in this dynamic environment challenges effective management of walrus and subsistence under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). However, the primary management goals of the MMPA, which are intended to be ecosystem-based, have been bypassed in favor of a numerical population assessment approach. Governance approaches such as adaptive co-management, using a suite of ecological and population indicators have theoretical promise for making management responsive to both observed ecosystem and population changes. Nevertheless, understanding outcomes of co-management has proven difficult. To address this, I argue that such an understanding requires not only a review of a statute's ecosystem-oriented goals, but also a critical consideration of the specific goals of each co-management partner. To sustain natural resources, mismatches between the scale of ecological processes regulating resources, and the social or political processes governing resource use should logically be reduced, thus improving what is termed "fit." I argue that failures to foster fit of these processes might better reflect underlying co-management partner goals, rather than a focus on the statutory goals of policy. I examine this claim by assessing the spatial and temporal "fit" of boundaries defining the political context of walrus co-management under the MMPA. I find that the ability to address the uncertainty of walrus population status in a manner benefiting adaptation of both walrus and Alaska Natives to a dynamic environment is compromised by a focus on values, rather than better matching policy with ecological and social conditions. My interdisciplinary findings are broadly applicable to community-based conservation partners seeking to foster resilience and adaptation of both natural resources and of the indigenous or rural communities dependent on them.